Dáil Éireann - Volume 224 - 11 October, 1966
Committee on Finance. - Vote 27—Local Government (Resumed).
Debate resumed on the following motion:
That a sum not exceeding £8,581,450 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1967, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Minister for Local Government, including Grants to Local Authorities, Grants and other expenses in connection with Housing, and Miscellaneous Grants including certain Grants-in-Aid.
—(Minister for Local Government.)
Mr. Harte Mr. Harte
Mr. Harte: When the Dáil adjourned on Thursday evening last, I was making a general comment on the housing situation as I see it in my constituency. I was referring to some of the difficulties the Minister for Local Government has and trying to bring pressure to bear on him, possibly from a political agitation point of view, inasmuch as I am his opposite number in that constituency but, primarily, to ask him to make sure that in this ensuing year more  money will be made available for building more houses in the constituency of North-East Donegal. The Minister is very much alive to the great need there and, no doubt, over the past few weeks has received many representations from that part of Donegal which used to be in his constituency but which now he has described as South-West Donegal in his 1961 Electoral Act. I refer to rehousing in the town of Stranorlar.
The father and mother of one family there—to give the House an idea of the gravity of the situation— called on me very disappointed the morning after the new tenants were appointed to this scheme. They informed me they had three teenage children: 13, 15 and 16 years of age. I cannot remember whether they said there were two boys and one girl or two girls and one boy but this family is living, without sanitary facilities, in two rooms in a house occupied by two other families. They could not understand why they were not appointed to this new scheme in Stranorlar. They claimed they had a very good case for rehousing. I might add that they had in their possession a copy of a section 4 requisition signed by three members of the local authority, directing the county manager to allocate them the next available house in that district, which I declined to sign. I explained to them why I declined to sign and promised I would look into their case.
One of the aspects they mentioned to me—and since then I have asked for more evidence of this—was that trickery took place in the allocation of houses in Stranorlar. I do not for a minute suggest that the methods used by any person applying for a house are methods any lower than I or any other person would use in trying to get tenancy of a cottage or house because people, living in the conditions they must live in today in Donegal, will try everything and anything which appears to be fair to establish their claim to a particular house. But this particular family could not understand why they were overlooked. I might add that both are very firm supporters of the Government  Party and at no stage during the conversation did they ever say they would withdraw their support. Indeed, it was with a certain amount of suspicion that they accepted my opinion that the reason they did not qualify for rehousing and had not been successful in being appointed as tenants of one of the cottages, was purely and simply that there must have been more people living in worse conditions than themselves.
One can imagine the conditions which exist in this part of Donegal, and I refer to one part of Donegal only at the moment, where a father and mother with three teenagers in their family are living in two rooms for the past 15 years, without sanitary facilities, and yet they did not qualify for a house—one out of 18. What must have been the conditions of the other tenants when this family did not qualify? If the Minister wants the name and address of these people, I will willingly give him all the information available to me, or I suggest that he ask his civil servants to communicate with the manager of Donegal County Council who will verify everything I have now stated. That is the most recent incident, spotlighting the great need for rehousing in Donegal which comes to my mind at this time and that is why I have mentioned it. I would ask the Minister to give very deep thought to this particular applicant when more houses are being built in Ballybofey, as no doubt more houses will be built in the not too distant future. I would ask him to give every consideration to the provision of more houses in every town in the constituency because I do not have to bring to his notice all the letters I receive day in day out asking for advice on how constituents should go about staking a claim for rehousing; how they can go about applying for loans and grants to rehouse themselves and their families, or indeed letters asking: “What is the delay in having our particular cottage erected, which was sanctioned some 12 months ago”?
There are many aspects involved here and no doubt if it were my responsibility to iron them out, it would  be quite a difficult task. But there are many administrative matters involved in this rehousing procedure in respect of applications for rehousing between the local authority and the Department of Local Government which could be eliminated completely. As I said here on Thursday evening last, when speaking on this Vote, this has been described by the Labour Prime Minister of Great Britain as being “non-productive effort”. I agree wholeheartedly and by “non-productive effort”, I mean to say that many civil servants—I do not make this statement out of personal spite towards any particular civil servant; I generalise my remarks— employed by the Department of Local Government spend a lot of time going over business attended to most minutely by officials of the local authorities. Many things have to be repeated when they come to the Department of Local Government for examination.
When it comes to a major scheme, I am with the Minister and the Department in making sure that every point is raised and every dark corner looked into, but I cannot understand why when Donegal County Council apply to the Department for sanction to build one cottage at a cost of anything between £1,750 and £2,000, it has to go through the same rigmarole as went in the previous post and in the post prior to that. This happens day in day out. In this day and age and with communications as they are, the manager of the local authority should have complete power to decide when a person is entitled to a house, to negotiate there and then with a contractor, and have the house erected. This would eliminate a lot of the delays, which cost money—money which could be used towards the provision of extra houses.
The main problem confronting this nation at the moment is the rehousing of our people. I do not think I could paint a darker picture than the one I painted of a family of five in the twin towns of Stranorlar and Ballybofey. The conditions which that family has  to tolerate until the Department deem it necessary to provide the money so that the county council can provide a house for that family, are a condemnation of the Government. The Department must take note of and recognise the seriousness of the situation. They must pay particular attention to this application. They must not forget that there are probably many families who are worse off or as badly off. When this Estimate is being debated next year, I hope I will be able to compliment the Minister on having provided more houses in Donegal. I have no doubt that, with the local elections coming, lots of promises will be made, and if only half of them are kept, I will be content.
The final point I want to raise is in relation to town planning and derelict sites, particularly derelict sites owned by the local authorities—in my case, Donegal County Council. We have regional development; we have amenity plans; we have all sorts of plans being put forward by the local authorities. We have experts coming from the Continent and from the United Nations, and seminars are being held all over the country at which we are told how we should plan our future. This would be easier if some of the derelict sites owned by the local authorities were cleaned up. This would help us to forget the past.
A direction should go from the Department to every county engineer or county manager, as the case may be, instructing them that every derelict site which is an eyesore in a town or village should be removed immediately. The Minister is aware of some villages in County Donegal that cry out to heaven because the local authorities ignore derelict sites. I have discussed this on many occasions with the county manager, the former county secretary, and the county engineer, and they tell me that the definition of a derelict site is a very peculiar thing indeed, and that there are many legal points which do not meet the eye but which must be dealt with before any derelict site can be acquired.
That may be the case. If it is the  case, the local authorities have the privilege of applying a compulsory purchase order and acquiring that derelict site and, having acquired it, putting it into a proper state. They may then, if they wish, offer it back to the original owner. This can be done. No doubt the Minister will say that it costs money. If it does cost money, it will be money well spent and money spent in giving employment to men who have to provide for their wives and families. It will also probably help to keep a few more families from emigrating.
I want to wish the officials directly involved in regional development and town planning in Donegal every success. This matter is so involved that I do not propose to discuss any detailed aspect of it. Not as much attention should be paid to the rural districts of Donegal as is being paid at the moment. I am in full agreement that absolute attention should be paid to applications coming in from urban areas and from towns and small villages, particularly on our main highways running through the country and to the seaside resorts. When it comes to the erection of a haybarn, or a farmer re-designing his farmyard, or some person proposing to erect a house for himself far from a main thoroughfare, there should not be any great delay so long as the plans meet the requirements of the local authority and the Department.
I want to ask the Minister to examine carefully the road tax now being collected on heavy duty vehicles, tipping lorries and heavy lorries or trucks which do business on both sides of the Border. I may add—and while it is not in order on the Estimate for the Department of Local Government, it is necessary for me to say so——
An Ceann Comhairle Patrick (Clare) Hogan
An Ceann Comhairle: The Deputy should not be tipping me off.
Mr. Harte Mr. Harte
Mr. Harte: It is kind of me.
An Ceann Comhairle Patrick (Clare) Hogan
An Ceann Comhairle: I understand that.
Mr. Harte Mr. Harte
Mr. Harte: The customs regulations permit Donegal-based lorries to collect and deliver loads of material of any  description in Northern Ireland. Like-wise a British-registered lorry in Tyrone or Derry can deliver a load of materials in County Donegal.
An Ceann Comhairle Patrick (Clare) Hogan
An Ceann Comhairle: I hope the Deputy will contribute to the debate on which this point is relevant.
Mr. Harte Mr. Harte
Mr. Harte: I just want to say this much: lorries pay much more road tax in County Donegal and the cost of the vehicles is much higher and therefore there is unfair competition between lorries doing similar work. The road tax on this side of the Border is much higher than in Northern Ireland and lorry owners living along the Border find things very difficult. They are in the position now that the only type of business they can do is collect goods in Donegal for delivery in Donegal. Whenever goods from Donegal are to be delivered in the Six Counties or vice versa, the Northern Ireland lorries can be more competitive. This is a point to which the Minister should give particular attention.
Last Thursday I spoke of the speed limit signs at Ballyrain, Letterkenny, and I would ask the Minister, when replying, to state exactly why such delay has taken place in having these road signs resited. He should also give an undertaking to the House that the laws which prohibit him from sanctioning the application from Donegal County Council to have these signs resited will be abolished or amended to allow him to sanction such proposals when they are made to him by responsible people.
Mr. Gallagher Mr. Gallagher
Mr. Gallagher: This is the seventh day on which this Vote for the Department of Local Government has been before the House. That indicates the interest taken in the debate and also the importance attached to this Department which covers a very wide field. I do not propose to go into every facet of it but I should like to comment on the activities of the Department during the past few years and particularly on the efforts made by the present Minister to activate housing  authorities all over Ireland to come to him with plans and get the building programme going. Unfortunately, it would appear that there must have been bundles of red tape at county council level and they did not seem to get it unravelled until 1966-67 and then they all came in together, which is neither helpful nor progressive.
The housing programme for this year will again be as large as last year's and last year 11,000 houses were built, a substantial increase on the previous year. I have no doubt the number built this year will be as great. There is, of course, more money provided this year. Despite all the clamour for money and all the allegations made to county councils and county borough councils, I hope they will have spent it all and that it will not be lying in their respective accounts at the end of the year as money not absorbed. That had become a feature in the past, that allocations had always been taken up but had not always been spent. I hope that the allocation of £25.5 million this year will be well and fully spent at the end of the year. The Minister's plans and the Government's plans give a target figure of 14,000 houses by 1970 to fit in with the Second Programme for Economic Expansion. That appears to me to be fairly adequate, having regard to renewals and some expansion in the stock of houses.
I have heard it said that we have something like 600,000 family units. At 10,000 a year, this would give the life of a house as about 60 years, but at 14,000 houses a year this would bring the life of a house closer to 40 years. In the past, houses probably gave a lifetime of about 100 years, with due allowance for proper maintenance. With a target of 14,000 houses, one could reasonably hope that the housing problem would ultimately be solved as far as possible. It is sheer nonsense to think that any problem will ever be finally solved because we are planning and changing every day. Human nature itself is changing and development taking place daily. Movement of population is taking place, and in all these  circumstances, it cannot be said that any particular plan can ever be finally battened down and finished with. The problem of housing will be just as great, I am sure, 100 or 1,000 years from now as it is today. It is a pity we could not make a perfect man and woman and have them all absolutely equal. We might then approach a Shangri-La of some kind but I am afraid we shall never succeed in doing that.
A tremendous fillip was given to housing by the passing into law on 12th July of the new Housing Bill. I hope the Minister will shortly issue the order making it effective. One of the good features of the Bill was section 5. I can see the benefit of this very clearly, especially in Counties Sligo and Leitrim, where the county councils are adopting this scheme and have made it work. Up to date I think some thousands of houses have been repaired under the scheme and I know that hundreds—even up to 1,000—are being prepared under the scheme.
It is a good scheme in so far as it provides minimum accommodation for old couples living in backward areas or in small holdings where there is little likelihood of succession by way of family or children afterwards. Ultimately, such a holding would pass away. This legislation was necessary because the particular type of people covered could not be catered for even by reconstruction grants. Sometimes they did not have the wherewithal to provide the money required in addition to the grant for reconstruction. Section 5 caters for them very well.
I should like the Minister to consider giving a slight increase and also urging the county councils to give a little more. At present the Minister gives £80 and Sligo County Council £120, as does Leitrim County Council. I should like a little more, because in most cases work should be done to give a more homely atmosphere. Standards are at a minimum and though some of the old houses have the roofs taken off, the ceilings are already there and all the houses need is an asbestos covering. I should like  to see the Minister extending this work as far as possible.
Progress made in housing throughout the country since 1932 has brought about a transformation. Here and there one can see the passing away of the old thatched houses and the slated houses which up to recently had no plumbing or drainage are being replaced by modern new homes. Anybody associated with the building industry knows that large numbers of our people are making every effort to instal the most up-to-date amenities, including central heating.
All this in the years ahead will put tremendous pressure on the Department because as the standard of living rises, people will either want to renew their homes by building new ones or to modernise them by the installation of plumbing, drainage and in many cases central heating. Therefore, in the future there will be heavy demands on the Minister and the Department as the standard continues to rise. It is a sign of the times that these vast changes are taking place. Our desire to raise the standard of living has come to reality. This will not decrease as the years go by. It will become more and more a part of our lives and this demand for higher standards will react on the Department of Local Government who will need to be particularly vigilant in their reviews of the whole housing programme.
There are approximately 600,000 family units in the country. During the next 40 or 60 years, the programmes set by the Department must include provision for an increasing population because the family unit pool will change radically. During that period also, many of the 600,000 homes now in existence will become obsolete. Indeed many of them are already so. There will, therefore, be an increased urgency to replace homes quickly. This will apply particularly to small towns and cities because in the hearts of our cities already there is a high proportion of obsolete houses which must be replaced in the very near future.
As I have said, the problem will not get easier with the passing years and in this connection there have been complaints  about the red tape at Departmental level and the consequential delays in approving housing schemes. Anyone with any idea of the planning of housing schemes or their design, even in the case of private enterprise, knows that the Department must be satisfied at all times that the standards are good and that the plans are good and that irrespective of the time it takes, Departmental officials must insist on certain standards being maintained. I must concur in this. It is necessary that care is taken in the field of local authority housing as well as in the private sphere and any Minister who, to satisfy demands by Deputies, tends to be less careful in the matter of either local authority housing or private housing would be very foolish because he would be laying himself open ultimately to accusations that he did not do his job.
On the suggestion that the Minister should intervene in the matter of tenancies, I should like to point out that this is purely a function of local councils. Though I do not like red tape, I am afraid that in future years we shall get more instead of less of it. In spite of red tape and the complaints about it, last year we built 11,000 houses and that is quite a good record. We have not got a pool of labour in this country to build many more houses in a year. In the category of skilled labour particularly there are shortages everywhere, not in the Gaeltacht alone.
Against that background, it is important that before releasing housing schemes for public tender, the Minister and the Department should satisfy themselves that they will not throw a glut of work on the market, thereby causing an escalation of prices. The Department must ensure that the volume of building at any stage will not be allowed to cause a glut and a consequential escalation in prices. There is always a danger of this in a rising economy where people want homes quickly. As well as in the field of local authority and private development programmes, the Minister must keep an eye on office and hospital building. He must, in conjunction with  the other Departments, keep a wary eye on the pool of skilled labour available so that prices can be maintained at a competitive level.
On the question of finance, as I pointed out in my opening remarks a sum of £25.5 million is being provided this year. Of this, local authorities will get £11.75 million. In 1964-65, the allocation to local authorities was £6.8 million. Last year it was increased to £9.9 million and this has been increased this year to £11.75 million. Still we hear the clamour that there is no money for housing.
For private housing, including SDA schemes, the allocation in 1964/65 was £4.6 million. In 1965-66, it was increased to £6 million and in the current year, the allocation is £7 million. That is in addition to the funds available from building societies, insurance companies and other lending bodies. More money, of course, is being allocated for reconstruction and repairs of old houses. When the year has finished, I doubt if any local authority will be inclined to say it was a period in which they were held up for lack of money. I submit that if any complaint arises, it will be primarily attributable to the fact that the money available will not be fully spent. I believe that some schemes will be held up because of a shortage of skilled workers. Because of this, I foresee that many of the schemes will not be completed within the contract period.
I am glad to see the Minister is asking for a housing survey. I heard him mention this on many occasions, that every local authority should set down its needs in the short term and in the long term. I would like to see the Minister pursuing this vigorously because if he does not the local authorities will blame him for not doing their work. When this information is available what is needed is a phased plan for the building of houses in every county. These things cannot be done tomorrow or in a couple of years. The public are well aware of what can or cannot be done. If they show any anxiety it is to get somewhere in the queue. If every county council put forward  a plan of development for housing requirements people would be satisfied. We all know people who are living in bad conditions. We also know people who are living in even worse conditions and who have a higher priority than others. The local authorities in letting houses must have regard to the worst cases. The people living in poor conditions would be well satisfied if they knew that in two, three or even five years' time they would become entitled to a house.
It has occurred to me for a good number of years now that the Minister ought to examine whether or not the building of houses at county council level is the best way of doing the work. It is an expensive business involving the engagement of architects and quantity surveyors by all of these bodies. The Minister set up the National Building Agency, and I believe this organisation should be developed to take over all housing from local authorities. I would not wish to see it done half and half; either do it 100 per cent or not at all, or maintain it on a limited basis for certain cases in respect of which it has proved useful up to now.
The Minister brought about the creation of a building advisory body some months ago. I understand their job is to examine the building industry, to establish continuity, as far as possible, to assess the needs of the industry and to consider methods of construction. This is welcomed. Any new method that can reduce the cost of building or advance the prefabrication of components is all to the good. The only difficulty I see in this kind of mechanical building is that it can take place only in respect of large groups of houses. From conversations I have had about this I understand these groups range from 100 up to 5,000 houses, in order to make it economic. This makes the position most difficult because in Ireland, with few exceptions, we do not build even 100 houses at one time but a much smaller number and the popular method of building at the moment is the traditional one. Whether people in need of houses are too conservative  or builders are too conservative it is hard to say. I expect the builders are supplying the demands of their customers and probably the customers are reluctant to accept something they know nothing about. However, I wish the bodies I have mentioned success and I hope they will soon bring to the Minister and his Department their schemes and plans for building houses as quickly and as efficiently as possible.
There is a need even in traditional housing for improved design. There is a need for improved layout of estates. Sometimes I feel this improvement may be inhibited by the rather strict regulations laid down in the Housing Acts, but I am assured by some people this is not the position, that a lot can be done. I wonder what is the case for sticking to rigid room sizes. In some countries I have been in, particularly Germany, the main accent in homes is on living space, a good-sized kitchen, a good-sized sittingroom and diningroom, and less accent on sleeping apartments. When I asked them why they said: “One only sleeps there. One does not live there.” Perhaps we could look at this matter again. In regard to the forthcoming standard building bye-laws, I hope these are advanced to the stage that the Minister can tell us something about them.
One hears much criticism these days in regard to the question of estates not being taken over by local authorities, and I understand this is the subject of an amendment to a Bill at the present time. It is most unfair to blame the Department of Local Government or the Minister for the situation in regard to these estates. Local authorities have all the power they need under section 35 of the Town Planning Act to ensure that developers hand over estates in proper condition. This is nothing more than the developer contracts for and undertakes to do. If this is not done, then it is for some other reason, and I suggest the reason is probably that the developer or the builder has no money to do it, or else he has died or has disposed of his interest. However, if local authorities sit back and do  nothing about it, they are neglecting their responsibility.
Members of local authorities who may care to acquaint themselves with the requirements will see that there are no further laws that can be passed to improve the position. All that can be done at present is to push things as far as possible in order to get the job done. There is no point in pushing a person who has no money to get him to spend money. To leave estates in an unfinished condition for 50 years is a disgrace. I do not think the Minister can strengthen the hand of the local authority more than has already been done under the section of the Town Planning Act. However, I am satisfied that responsible builders and developers in the city of Dublin do finish estates and hand them over.
I know from personal experience that the difficulty is very often in getting local authorities to take over estates. Even when the work which they stipulate must be done has been carried out it is difficult to get them to take over the estates. They like to leave the matter for another couple of years to see if anything else might require to be done. The local authorities do not show any sense of urgency even where the developer is willing and anxious to hand over an estate. I would ask the Minister to see if he can do anything to ensure that estates are quickly finished and handed over.
Now I come to the matter of estate planning, having regard to the high price of land at the present time. It can be said that any kind of approved building land in Dublin today will command a price in the region of £3,000, if not more. The density figure of six houses to the acre tends to increase the cost of houses. Under the town planning regulations of Dublin Corporation, a builder can build 20 houses to the acre in zone A and 80 houses to the acre in zone B but, when one carries out all the bye-laws, one is lucky if one can get eight or nine houses to the acre. This problem, as many Members of the House  know, is tied up with the front building line, the minimum size of back gardens and so on. It is most difficult to get the density up. The Minister and the Department could usefully consider this matter. There is also the question of the rigidly enforced 20 feet frontage for a building. The only way in which this can be got over is by special permission of the Minister. There should be some flexibility in regard to this rule so that the density may be increased. This can be done without cluttering an area. It is done successfully in other countries whose standards are fairly high and I cannot see why it cannot be done here. I should like to see more flexibility in regard to the density regulations.
One meets county engineers who take their office very seriously but without utilising their powers. There is only one county engineer who insists that every road in an estate shall be 24 feet wide. I agree that 24 feet would be necessary for a road that is carrying buses and lorries. For a road carrying residential traffic on which a couple of houses would have a car on each side of the road I suggest that 16 feet, the width adopted in other places, would be adequate. In some cases there is a 30 foot building line, a 24 foot wide road, two paths of six feet wide and grass margins six feet wide and 30 feet on the far side. There can be a distance of 90 to over 100 feet between the houses on either side of the road. Having regard to the pool of land available for housing, this means an escalation in price.
An Foras Forbartha comes under the Minister for Local Government. As far as I know, this body is responsible for physical planning, which I understand to mean physical planning and development in the country generally. At present An Foras Forbartha is working on schemes for Waterford and Galway. I hope its activities will extend further west, into Sligo. There is a great deal of responsibility resting on the officers of the Institute. Their task will not be an easy one. There are many towns and villages which are not in a position to accept or to accommodate an industry, because of lack of services.  That is why I welcome the activities of An Foras Forbartha. It will be able to pinpoint the areas that can with safety be developed immediately and, also, the areas that are inhibited because they have not the necessary services for development. There is a small town in my constituency where the county manager threatened to cut off a water supply from an industry on the grounds that it was taking all the water. Notice was served on them to the effect that they must have their own water supply. An Foras Forbartha is in an ideal position to deal with such problems.
Problems arise not alone in relation to the placing of industries but, also, in relation to the provision of services of all kinds, including housing. There cannot be industrial development unless the housing needs of the potential workers are met. There must be simultaneous planning of industry and services. It is not enough to provide employment. Amenities must also be developed so that the leisure time of the workers will not become boring. It is as important to cater for leisure as it is to provide employment. There is an increasing demand for amenities at all levels.
The planning of industrial development in certain areas will, I am sure, follow certain lines. For instance, certain areas are more suitable for light engineering than others. There might be a nucleus of a light engineering industry in an area which could be developed. When similar types of industry are developed together, they become complementary to each other and this has the effect of accelerating development in an area. When the pool of knowledge is concentrated in an area, it can be useful all round. I am sure the planners will bear this in mind. The same applies to the textile industry, heavy engineering, cabinet-making, furniture and so on. The grouping of industries tends to make them stronger and give greater hope to the worker. He is no longer isolated. If he becomes redundant, he does not find himself without another job to walk into. He feels freer, less a prisoner, in an industrial zone than an  isolated industry. He become a better worker. Any worker who feels free to walk out of one job into another is, by and large, easier to handle; although people may hold the view that if he has no alternative but to work in a particular industry, he will work better. I do not agree. Men work better when they are free in mind and body.
In certain rural areas, the pool of labour may be great but it is not always suitable labour. In many towns and rural areas, you find a percentage of people who say they are available for employment, but if you check their age and background, you find the age level is high and their previous experience is confined to work on small farms, roads and relief schemes. They are not always adaptable to new types of training and work. The idea ought to be to phase-develop and absorb the younger boys and girls coming from the school so that they can be trained for industrial work. Farm work and relief work on the county council is often of a fairly lethargical type—easy come, easy go— and if the worker is friendly with the ganger, he might have his job held open for him. This cannot apply to industrial development. Any well-organised industrial firm either needs you for a job or it does not. If you are going to stay out for the day, you had better arrange a substitute to take up your job while you are away. This is something the planners will have to face up to. Perhaps it is too early yet to expect any report from the county planning teams which were set up some time ago.
The Minister has shown tremendous interest in the need for the provision of swimming pools throughout the country. When the Minister asks for anything to be done, everybody wants to do it at once. Then they complain they do not get the money immediately. Swimming pools can be provided in every area requiring them but it should be a phased development. This should be put to local authorities in concrete terms. To provide amenities of this kind everywhere overnight is impossible. These people should be put in a queue and told: “You will get it such  a year” and “You will get it such a year.” In that way they could lay their plans accordingly. I welcome the development of these amenities. Not alone should every child be able to swim, but swimming provides healthy exercise for them and helps to develop their minds and bodies.
Somebody mentioned derelict sites. I cannot say I am excited about the use being made of the derelict sites grant and the amenity grant that goes with it. The Minister ought to circularise local authorities again urging them to use their powers of acquisition. If people do not clean up those unsightly ruins quickly, let the council take over the site and clear it. While on the subject of amenity grants, many of our seaside resorts of the west are a disgrace during the summertime. I would ask the Minister to request local authorities to provide at least minimum toilet requirements near bathing places. There are resorts I would be ashamed to go to because they have no toilet facilities whatever. Here is a further point. I have never seen any effort made to provide a simple fresh water shower in which one can wash off the salt water on returning from a swim. This is something which would improve the reputation of any of our seaside resorts.
We welcome the realistic approach of the Minister to the question of rents. We hear complaints in this House day in and day out about the rise in taxation. We hear the general litany of hardship. We are aware of people living in local authority houses for rents as low as 3/6d or 5/- a week. We are aware that many of those tenants have quite large incomes. But nothing has ever been done about it because of a Landlord and Tenant Act passed 20 or 30 years ago. Today their children are getting married and have to face the reality of an economic rent, which could well be £3 or even more. When fixing rents, local authorities have regard to people's means. I do not want to impose on any person of small income or limited means a tremendous rent, but we must be realistic about  this. It is disgraceful to find an artisan putting down a deposit of £400 or £500 to buy a house, taking on the responsibility for a mortgage over 30 or 35 years and then being faced with a bill for rates of £40, £50 or £60. That man goes out each morning to his job and may well sit down to work with a man living in a subsidised local authority house who is getting more wages than he gets.
Wherein does our responsibility lie? What type of social justice do we seek? Local authorities must look at this realistically. If there is this increase in rates and taxation each year, surely it was brought about because we failed to face up to the responsibilities we are charged with and to meet our problems? In the life of every public man, he can run before the tide for so long but ultimately he must face up one day to his responsibilities, too. There is a day of reckoning coming for a lot of members of county councils and others who come into this House and go to county council meetings and complain about justice, while supporting injustice.
The Minister is now asking and urging local authorities to increase those rents and to help to reduce the new rents for the new home-owners and, indeed, to try to keep taxation down by making those pay who can afford to pay. Anybody who cares to trouble himself to go around some of the old housing estates in Dublin will notice the number of cars parked outside the homes and in the streets and can be in no doubt as to the position. I think, indeed, that local authorities should go farther. They should make it mandatory on the tenant fully to declare his income and, indeed, any changes that might arise in his income, either upwards or downwards. If his income goes up he should notify it and if it goes down he should notify it. We could have the position that when a person became unemployed his rent would immediately be subsidised or reduced by the county council.
This brings me to the point at which I might say that house ownership  should be encouraged. The owner of a house has a stake in the land, as the saying goes, and is a much more responsible person. I know that the Department and the county councils have been pushing this for many years now. From the Minister's speech, I gathered that something like 72.5 per cent of the houses are already vested representing something like 63,198 houses. I should like to see vesting accelerated.
The person who owns his house removes even the charge of its maintenance from the county council. Furthermore, he becomes a ratepayer and subscribes to the general rate of the city or of the county. Altogether, he becomes a more responsible and settled citizen. A person who becomes a tenant of a house may not alone not maintain it but it costs the local authority quite a lot each year to maintain it. Furthermore, he does not even tend to be house-proud. It is very important that every person should develop, if he has not already got it, this quality of being house-proud. One factor, above all, which encourages it is ownership in this particular field.
In the matter of road safety, the Minister has been carrying out a campaign of propaganda and indeed has been bringing in new legislation. I shall not say anything more about it except to mention that trends would indicate that strong rules and regulations must be brought in about the mechanical conditions of road vehicles, not alone of cars already on the road but of new cars coming on the road. I think a lot of new cars ought to be brought up to certain standards and that steps should be taken to ensure that these standards are adhered to without any question. One hears a general blaming of inebriated drivers for being the main cause of accidents. I think it is possible that over-tired drivers, people driving cars who have not been to bed the night before, people driving cars who have been working hard all day, contribute to road accidents. I know myself, from experience of driving, the number of times I have had to stop because sleep started to overtake me  and I started to nod off, as it were. These are far more dangerous conditions, probably, than a person who might have taken a drink in moderation. However, all of these factors contribute to accidents. It is important to bear in mind the mechanical condition not alone of old cars but of new cars, too.
With regard to planning and urban renewal, I think this problem of urban renewal will have to be tackled and it will be a mansized job. In our major cities, it is already a problem. In Dublin, property will have to be acquired, demolished and rebuilt and that will call for greater planning, imagination and a tremendous amount of money. I have seen what has been done in other countries. I know that in parts of America the city authorities are urged to buy property, where urban renewal is desirable and then to sell the property to a developer and any loss that is suffered between the cost and the selling price is made up by a Federal grant. We may have to do something of that nature in relation to the centre of Dublin city. It may well be necessary to bring in special legislation so as to have a more rapid rate of urban renewal. Most of the grand old streets of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, for which Dublin has rightly been famous, are now pretty well worn out and obsolete. Probably they could be preserved for a few more years with the aid of some further money but ultimately they must change and the whole of the centre of Dublin city will have to be renewed. This is a matter that will face the Minister in a few years' time.
I want to compliment the Minister on the legislation he has piloted through this House during the year and on the work he has done in his Department. I want also to say that the recent award to him of membership of the Town Planning Institute is a well-deserved tribute. We know that the Minister has taken a deep interest in town-planning and has gone to great lengths to acquaint himself with all aspects of it. I have a word to say for a former member of the Department  who, until recently, was the Secretary, Mr. John Garvin, who has retired. I want to take this opportunity of wishing him success in his retirement and, at the same time, to welcome the new Secretary of the Department and to hope that he will have many years of progress and success.
Mr. Sweetman Mr. Sweetman
Mr. Sweetman: I do not propose to delay the House but I want to deal with a couple of aspects of the work of the Department. Apart from the actual volume of money made available by the Minister's Department to local authorities, one of the troubles at the present time is that there is no forward planning or forward allocations in relation to it. It is quite absurd for anyone to attempt to make plans or to plan any real progress if they know only from year to year the exact capital allocations. In March of this year, the Minister for Local Government made the allocations for local authorities for housing, road works and other purposes. When doing so, he did not give to the authorities concerned any indication of where they would stand next year. In these circumstances, it seems to me quite impossible to suggest to local authorities to plan on starting schemes this year without knowing whether they will be able to finance these schemes, as they go on.
I know that, to some extent, there is an improvement compared with the position which obtained 20 years ago. Up to 1954, the position was that the Department of Local Government made no effort at all to make any plan or estimate of capital expenditure by local authorities. There has been some improvement up to the present, an improvement initiated during those years; but we shall have to go much further than that. We will have to make it quite clear that the amount available to a local authority will run to a particular pattern for at least three or four years ahead and it will then be the task and the responsibility of the local authority concerned to ensure that those funds are utilised in the right way and the proper priorities kept. As the situation  is at present, it is a question of living from hand to mouth over a 12-month period.
Apart from the fact that this impinges on those who would hope to benefit by local authority works, there is the added disadvantage that it has a most depressing effect on productivity in the building industry. Again and again the Minister has repeated that the amount of money which will be made available for building this year will be more than was made available last year. The real facts are, of course, now beginning to emerge. Whatever amount is made available this year, a large part of it must have been committed on 31st March last, and a large part of the money being made available this year, and the Minister has adverted to this, is necessarily purely for the purpose of clearing up the backlog that was there at the end of March last. The figures available for each month in respect of the completion of houses under State-aided schemes show in each single month in 1966 a reduction over the similar period in 1965. The total in each of the first eight months of this year up to the end of August, the latest date for which figures are available, is approximately 20 per cent down on last year and about one-fifth fewer houses have been completed this year than there were last year, notwithstanding the fact that one takes into account in that the building strike last year.
In those circumstances, it is difficult to see how the Minister can be said to be approaching the problem realistically. It would seem to me he is approaching it politically rather than realistically and economically. Apart from the Ballymun scheme, I do not know whether any consideration has been given to the possibility of ensuring, by long-term planning, the bringing down of ordinary building costs. The method of allotting small contracts here and there and even allotting large contracts in stages inevitably prevents the advantages of large-scale production and is one of the reasons why the cost of building remains so high.
I might add that, apart from the statistics showing a reduction in new  houses in the final eight months of this year from 5,242 last year to 4,239 this year, there is other evidence from the analysis produced by a firm of stock-brokers in relation to ten Irish companies serving the building industry here. That analysis has arrived at exactly the same conclusion: the only reason the Minister is able to say that the amount of money made available this year is slightly more than was made available last year is the large part of that money necessary to complete the commitments there at the end of 1965-66. It is clear that the sums available to finance new building activity in the current financial year are unlikely to be anything like sufficient to maintain building activity at the 1965-66 level, and the sooner we face that fact the better it will be for everybody. The prospects for the building industry—we all accept this—must of course depend on the prospects for the economy as a whole. It is, I think, true to say that the time-lag in relation to the industry as from the deflation in 1965 has now built up very badly indeed and it is difficult to see any fair prospect of improvement in the current year.
Whatever may be the position in relation to local authority building, the position in relation to private building depends entirely on the amount of money available to finance new house purchases. The amount available under the SDA in the county about which I have the greatest knowledge, Kildare, is infinitesimal compared with the amount required and every day public representatives are coming up against cases of people who want to make arrangements to build their houses with SDA loans and the county council is not in a position to tell them they can safely undertake that burden.
I can understand the Minister having difficulties in relation to increasing the amount that is available. He can hand out only that which is made available to him by the Minister for Finance. If only a more realistic view were taken and people were told clearly that they cannot get the money they require but that the capital to service the loan will be available on such-and-such a date,  then they could make some plans for their future homes. The present situation is most unsatisfactory. Local authorities have to write to individual applicants, to solicitors acting on behalf of applicants, and to public representatives making representations on behalf of applicants, saying they have no funds and they do not know what they will get next year; that is something that is causing uncertainty. It is doing very great damage not only to the building industry but also to applicants, since it inflicts a very great hardship on them.
The Minister for Finance some time back did say that efforts would be made to ensure that allocations would be made and it would be for Departments to decide how they would sort out the various allocations within the figures granted. Now that must be taken a step further and basic allocations must be made not only for one year but for two or three years ahead. The people concerned will then know where they stand.
For example, in the town of Naas there has been great anxiety in relation to a sewerage scheme, the Sallins Road Scheme. Pressure has been brought by representatives of all the political Parties on the Minister to sanction the scheme sent up. It is a scheme which I fear is necessary because of the inadequate technicalities of a previous one. However, the sanctioning of that sewerage scheme itself is not going to do anything in that area without a proper planned programme of moneys to be made available under the Small Dwellings Act for the people who naturally want to buy the houses to be erected and in which they will spend a large part of their lives. The frustration and the lack of propriety that arises in relation to schemes of that sort, the lack of order, is something that has to be changed.
In relation to roads, I fear that our allocation in relation to their development is being unnecessarily strained by the lack of driving sense in our people. It is such a rare thing as to be a matter for wonder to see anyone driving on the left of the road. People always drive on the left centre and the effect of that is that there is a large  part of the left-hand side of the road that is not being used at all and it is not being used even though very large sums have gone into its construction and maintenance. I think the recommendation of the Minister to local authorities that they should always have a white line down the middle of the roads, even though the road may be normally a three-lane road, is something that encourages this, because drivers tend to drive with the white line immediately on their right.
I would earnestly ask the Minister to consider whether it would not be for the better utilisation of road space, and the expense that has gone into it, to ensure that roads which are in fact three-lane roads would be marked out as such and not have a white line down the middle which leaves a lane and a half, so to speak, on each side. It is unfortunate that that does happen and it is equally unfortunate that many of our drivers do not give signals of what they intend to do. The lack of notice of intention in relation to driving is a greater cause of accidents than anything else. Of course, where accidents do occur, the higher the speed the worse the accident, but I would suggest that the number of accidents that arise because drivers will not behave as ordinary people and give notice of what they intend to do, is extremely high.
The Minister also indicated in his introductory speech that he proposes to introduce a system of clear-ways in Dublin. The one-way street system that has been adopted in Dublin has undoubtedly improved the flow of traffic but it is all set at naught if you are going to have indiscriminate parking in some of those one-way streets. I mention particularly Charlotte Street which is a one-way street for the purpose of getting a roundabout at the traffic junction and yet it is regularly blocked by lorries in such a way that traffic cannot get through it. While a great deal of unnecessary trouble is caused by parking of that sort, there is also a good deal of unnecessary trouble caused to a driver by not knowing where he is entitled to park or where he is not entitled to park.
 I would urge the Minister to bring in the same system as operates on the Continent whereby parts of the street which are prohibited as parking places have the edge of the pavement painted in red and white. It is thus simple to see where parking is prohibited and there is no excuse in those circumstances for people parking there, as there is at present. It is often impossible to know whether a place is a permitted parking place or not. The lack of discrimination in dealing with streets in that way has undone much of the improved flow of traffic which was brought in with the introduction of the one-way system which has been adopted in Dublin.
I would also ask the Minister to urge local authorities to provide some sort of forward warning so that a motorist approaching a turn will know that he is not allowed to turn one or two particular ways. As it is, unless people know the area, they will not know whether a right turn is prohibited or not until they actually arrive at the crossing. By that time they are probably in the wrong lane and getting back into the right lane only causes a great deal of unnecessary confusion all around. There should be a forward warning notice to the effect that at the next junction, a right-hand turn is prohibited. Without that, a person cannot have any real idea of how to go, unless he or she knows the area.
It was a pity that the Government some years ago dropped the Local Authorities (Works) Act. I do not for one moment suggest that it was perfect but it was an Act under which local authorities did a good deal in many areas throughout the country to improve the lot of those in the most backward parts and who were in consequence, I would suggest, the people who were deserving of assistance and development. I know that the Fianna Fáil answer always is that there was no provision for maintenance. It would have been quite simple to provide that local authorities would be offered grants under the Local Authorities (Works) Act in any case where they were prepared to agree to accept an obligation to provide maintenance on that work at the normal maintenance  rate, which I think is about four per cent. That was not done and I feel that it is more likely that the scheme was dropped because of the financial implications rather than because of the expressed statements that it was not as it should be.
Regardless of all that, the Minister has had to listen to a long debate on this and I think he must make up his mind that unless he is going to be able to tell local authorities what they are going to get under their various headings for capital expenditure over a period of at least two years, in addition to the current year that is being considered at any one time, he will not get any reasonable planning by local authorities and, indeed, will not get any responsible local government.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle Cormac Breslin
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Minister, to conclude.
Mr. Corish Mr. Corish
Mr. Corish: There is nobody else left to talk.
Minister for Local Government (Mr. Blaney) Neil T. Blaney
Minister for Local Government (Mr. Blaney): There is an amendment which I should like to bring to the notice of the House. It has been brought to my notice that in introducing the Estimate, following the practice of previous years, I moved that a sum not exceeding £2,324,090 be granted to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge coming in course of payment during the year. This took into account the amount already made available under the Central Fund (Permanent Provisions) Act, 1965. I am informed that under the new financial arrangements covered by this Act, the motion should, in fact, cover the full amount required for the year and I should more correctly have moved that a sum not exceeding £8,581,450 be granted to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on 31st day of March, 1967, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Minister for Local Government, including Grants to Local Authorities, Grants and other expenses in connection with Housing, and miscellaneous grants including certain Grants-in-Aid.
Mr. Corish Mr. Corish
 Mr. Corish: Is this an additional sum?
Mr. Blaney Mr. Blaney
Mr. Blaney: It is a new formula.
Mr. Sweetman Mr. Sweetman
Mr. Sweetman: The old one was that you had the Central Fund account in March for one-third of the year and later you asked for the remaining two-thirds. Now you ask for the whole lot at once.
Mr. Blaney Mr. Blaney
Mr. Blaney: Yes.
Mr. Sweetman Mr. Sweetman
Mr. Sweetman: Is this the total in the Book of Estimates?
Mr. Blaney Mr. Blaney
Mr. Blaney: There is no change in the amount, unfortunately.
My opening speech was probably rather lengthy, but on the other hand, it was deliberately so for the reason that I felt the House are entitled to a fairly full review, particularly as we have already got through half of the year in respect of which this Estimate is now being provided. I have been criticised, of course, because I said so much and also accused of not being frank with the House. This trend was taken up by Deputies T.J. Fitzpatrick, O.J. Flanagan, M.P. Murphy, Dillon, O'Hara, Casey, Tierney and S. Collins. I did not, in my introductory speech, in any way attempt to conceal any difficulties we are facing in regard to my Department. I did not attempt even to hide any misgivings which I may have had in regard to the difficulties with which we are now confronted and which may confront us for some considerable time to come.
The overall capital position, while still far from what I would like it to be, represents a considerable improvement on the position obtaining this time last year.
This cannot be regarded in any way as other than factual. I would like those who have stated otherwise to reconsider the situation and to be frank with themselves. They should compare this with the performance and the availability of moneys in the past. If, after that, they still feel as they have stated they feel, all I can say is there is no help for them. You cannot  do anything about them except to let them go their own wilful ways. I was very frank and open with the House.
At least Deputy Larkin did not join with those other Deputies: not only that, but he departed from it. In fact, he was perturbed by those things which I had to say, which others complained about as misleading. Deputy Larkin apparently read the script and he expressed astonishment that not alone was I being frank by making very serious statements but also about the difficulties we had to face. Deputy Larkin and I do not always agree. On the other hand, I am rather inclined to take account of what he said and note his astonishment at my frankness as against the charges of lack of frankness made by other Deputies. I would say to those who have been astonished at my lack of frankness: “Go and have a look at the facts and revise your opinions accordingly.”
Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick (Cavan) Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick (Cavan)
Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick (Cavan): I have no intention of interrupting the Minister beyond making this one point. I did not accuse the Minister of lack of frankness on this occasion. I accused him of lack of frankness when introducing his Estimate last year.
Mr. Blaney Mr. Blaney
Mr. Blaney: The Deputy, if I am not misquoting the context of what he said in respect of this Estimate, which I understand is the Estimate we should speak about at all times, said that there was no money for housing and that the Minister should be frank and tell the House that was so.
Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick (Cavan) Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick (Cavan)
Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick (Cavan): I have no intention of interrupting the Minister.
Mr. Blaney Mr. Blaney
Mr. Blaney: The Deputy is making a good job of it.
Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick (Cavan) Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick (Cavan)
Mr. T.J. Fitzpatrick (Cavan): I just want to get him on the rails. I accused the Minister of being less than frank with the House when he introduced last year's Estimate and said that everything in the garden was rosy and that we might expect bigger and better things. I said that within a matter of a few months a shortage  of money was disclosed. Reference to my speech will prove that.
Mr. Blaney Mr. Blaney
Mr. Blaney: I do not agree, taking the amended version into account, that I was less than frank then as to the knowledge that was available to me at the particular time. What I said then was as frank and as open as what I said on this occasion.
Now, to get back to the Estimate, that is, the present year's Estimate, the fact is that £25 million is being made available for housing and sanitary services generally. This shows a growth over last year. I should like, to prove this point, to give some figures from 1960 onwards. These figures show that in 1960-61, £9.03 million of State capital was expended on housing. In 1961-62 this figure had risen to £9.67 million; in 1962-63, it had risen to £11.19 million; in 1963-64, to £12.12 million; in 1964-65, to £15.33 million; in 1965-66, to £20.05 million; and in 1966-67, to £21.84 million, plus £.9 million, a total of £22.74 million. Those are the figures for the past seven years. I know it may be argued that costs have risen during this time and that an article bought seven years ago would cost considerably more today. Everybody must agree, despite their bias and prejudices, working out those calculations, that £22.74 million would, without doubt, provide a great deal more, even at today's costs, than £9.03 million could possibly have provided back in 1960-61.
It can be seen that, despite all the difficulties we have to face, the increased money being provided in the present year is capable of doing more than has been done in any other year, under any Government whatsoever, in the history of this country. Lest we might run away with the idea, as some people seem to do, that it is all very well to say we are giving an extra £5½ million for the present year but that it is not being provided by the local authorities, the amount provided from the Local Loans Fund to local authorities, for the first six months of this year, was £8 million, as against the figure of £7.5 million for the same period of last year. It will also be  agreed that there was a bank strike this year, which amongst other things, probably slowed down the issue of money from the Local Loans Fund to local authorities.
I can see no reason why there should be a continued hold up at this stage of any issue by the housing authority people. It is through their own fault. I say this deliberately because of the fact that misrepresentation is so rife and misunderstanding is being projected so ably by so many people that this is injuring the minds of our people in regard to local authorities. As I go along, I shall be replying to the various points. The House will agree that to attempt to reply individually or in detail to all the points made by all the Deputies who have spoken during the course of the past seven days on this debate would not alone be impossible for me, but would be practically impossible for the House to tolerate.
Mr. James Tully Mr. James Tully
Mr. James Tully: I remember the Minister concluding his speech on this Estimate in 30 seconds one night.
Mr. Blaney Mr. Blaney
Mr. Blaney: And I would have this time, if I had got in.
Progress reported; Committee to sit again.
Dáil Éireann 224 Committee on Finance. Vote 27—Local Government (Resumed).